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Quietly cool cocktail hours at Grace & Disgrace 

click to enlarge Megan Goodney and Ralph DiTucci opened Grace & Disgrace, a small-scale pop-up cocktail event series, in the spring. The events feature limited cocktail and small bites menus and cater to people who want a chill, brief night out. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Megan Goodney and Ralph DiTucci opened Grace & Disgrace, a small-scale pop-up cocktail event series, in the spring. The events feature limited cocktail and small bites menus and cater to people who want a chill, brief night out.
On a recent humid Saturday evening, a small crowd connected over cocktails in a cool and cozy den-like room inside a nondescript building in the East End. The dulcet notes of Chet Baker blended with the happy chatter of a dozen candlelit guests who were grouped in twos and fours at small tables, on couches, and perched on barstools.

This was Grace & Disgrace, a tiny pop-up cocktail hour business that’s steadily gaining a following through word-of-mouth.

Fifteen minutes earlier, the guests were lined up outside an unlabeled door at 17 Richmond St. waiting to be let inside to what was the first of two 90-minute seatings being offered that evening.

Among them were Susan Dieter and Chip Yatteau, both of Webster. Dieter had heard about the spot from a co-worker and assumed the crowd would have skewed younger, given the event’s relatively under-the-radar status. That night, most of the people gathered outside were pushing 50, although the clientele changes with every event.

“I think the demographic of the group here is interesting,” she said.
The door eventually opened and the crowd was greeted by co-owners Ralph DiTucci and Megan Goodney.

Grace & Disgrace is not a bar. It doesn’t keep regular hours, and its visitors who reserve a spot for one of the weekly Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night pop-ups can’t just order a beer or a shot or their usual. The menus, like the timetables, are tightly controlled.

“We wanted to create a tiny, cocktail-focused space that operates differently from most bars and restaurants,” DiTucci told CITY in an interview prior to the event. “We’re offering a more bespoke program.”

Since opening, the events have expanded from two 90-minute seatings on Friday and Saturday nights to accommodating groups of up to four guests who book 45- or 90-minute seatings in 15 minute increments between 7 and 11 p.m. from Thursday through Saturday.

click to enlarge A view of the bar at Grace & Disgrace. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • A view of the bar at Grace & Disgrace.
The events aren’t geared toward those looking to drink themselves silly. They cater to people with adventurous palates who want a chill, brief outing and an audible conversation with a date or friends.

Prior to launching in May, DiTucci and Goodney each had deep experience in Rochester’s hospitality sector. They had been business partners for five years as the owners of Cristallino Premium Ice — which supplies crystal clear, spherical, and other custom ice cubes to area restaurants and bars — as well as Bar Mecca, a retail operation that specializes in bitters and equipment basics for home bars.

RELATED: Meet the people who make Rochester's nicest ice

They see Grace & Disgrace as an extension of their brand and mission, which DiTucci says is to support and expand cocktail culture in Rochester. The business name reflects a time when a past business endeavor fell through, and how DiTucci and Goodney handle setbacks in general.

“It’s about coming to an acceptance both of how amazing we are and how we fall short, and the hope that we can do so with grace,” DiTucci said.

The small-scale business model emerged in part from the changes that COVID made to the hospitality industry and the public’s relationship to going out.

“We kind of realized how vulnerable we all are, and that it was beneficial to have a smaller plot of land that you're responsible for, something that you can make sure that you're taking care of, and you're taking care of all of your employees, and all of your guests the best you can,” Goodney said. “Because when people go out, they're doing it to indulge or to relax, or let go. And so you want to make it worth it for them.”

Grace & Disgrace can accommodate up to 20 people at a time, and a reservation is required for each guest. Each event features a small tasting menu of six to 12 cocktails and mocktails (generally priced from $10 to $20), along with three to seven small bites (from $10 to $14), all of which are available a la carte. Given that DiTucci and Goodney handle taking the orders, making drinks, and fetching the food for all of the guests, visitors can count on comfortably ordering just a couple of drinks and bites each during their stay.

On this particular evening, guests could choose from an eclectic menu of eight drinks, each with a special twist. Their version of the cocktail bar mainstay the Old Fashioned was made with duck fat-washed Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Bourbon, demerara sugar, celery bitters, and cherrywood smoke, which was infused into the drink by setting the glass inside a little machine with a chamber that filled with smoke. The Long Island Tea was not the booze-soaked beverage served at clubs but actually contained orange pekoe tea, spirits, lemon oil, and honey. A Japanese Highball was made with Taketsuru whisky and sesame-flavored ingredients.

A few beverages had musical titles. “Kiss Them for Me,” a fruity drink with pistachio milk, was a nod to Siouxsie Sioux in name and in her iconic eyes stenciled onto the foam. Nick Drake’s song “Pink Moon” was the inspiration for a nonalcoholic drink with Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso and flavors of orange, blueberry, and cardamom.

click to enlarge Grace & Disgrace, which hosts pop-up cocktail events at Bar Mecca, caters to people looking for a low-key night out. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Grace & Disgrace, which hosts pop-up cocktail events at Bar Mecca, caters to people looking for a low-key night out.
Nibbles ranged from a simple braided loaf of bread with herbed goat butter and kumquat marmalade or pickled fruit plate, to upscale versions of Tom Yum soup and deviled quail eggs with wasabi and caviar.

DiTucci said menu items rotate based on the season, the expected preferences (read: allergies and dietary choices) of guests on a given night, current inspirations, and other factors.

As the guests from the early seating were leaving and the owners began clearing glasses and plates to prepare for the second wave, a few stragglers finished their beverages and commented on the pleasantness of the experience.

Among them were city residents John Schloff and Dorothy Kelley, both first-timers. Kelley knows DiTucci from her previous line of work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester, where DiTucci volunteers as a mentor.

“There are a lot of places to go in Rochester, but few capture the spirit of the owners,” Schloff said. “It just makes a difference.”

See upcoming events and reserve your spot by clicking the link in the bio at @grace.and.disgrace on Instagram.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's life editor. She can be reached at becca@rochester-citynews.com.
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